Fairies, Dragons, Dwarfs, and Beasts-The Role of Magic in Disney Movies
August 31, 2015

When you were a child, you probably laughed at the funny, cute dwarfs who protected Snow White from the evil queen.

Even now, you can’t resist the excitement of seeing Maleficent turn into a dragon during “Sleeping Beauty” as the kind fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather do their best to protect Aurora. You laugh every time cheerful Olaf the snowman comes on screen in “Frozen.” You cower when the Beast first rages at Belle’s father in “Beauty and the Beast.”

But if you’ve ever wondered why you respond so strongly to such characters and situations, let’s sum up the reason in one word: magic.

Why We Crave Magic in a Real World

Our modern world is a complicated, sometimes difficult place. Outside events challenge people every day. Some might respond with frustration or anxiety to those events outside their control.

The idea of magic counteracts this effect by helping people feel more in control of worldly events or situations. Magic also explains why most people don’t want to talk too much about all the good things in their lives in case they jinx themselves. If you’ve ever imagined that it wouldn’t rain if you brought your umbrella along, you’re making a decision based on magic.

Psychological science suggests that people may even be hard-wired to believe in magic, whether on a marginal or large-scale basis.

Additionally, magic usually goes hand in hand with a “good vs. evil” mentality. After all, doesn’t that mentality describe most of the fairy tales out there? Think about it: Disney heroes and heroines wouldn’t have anything to do if they didn’t have to confront a beast, dragon, or evil force of some kind.

How Disney Makes Us Love-or Love to Hate-Magical Characters

The good characters do face some real challenges in Disney’s magical realm. Here are just a few characters and their magical nemeses:

Merlin vs. Madam Mim

Few examples of good battling evil are as memorable as Merlin’s magical contest against Mad Madam Mim in “The Sword and the Stone.”

Madam Mim is the comically over-confident witch who wants to best the wizard Merlin during a rival’s contest. We love the cackling, boisterous witch as much for her sly trickery as well as for her eventual downfall.

Even though we fear for Merlin when Madam Mim transforms herself into a towering dragon or a thundering rhino, we somehow believe that good will triumph-as it does when Merlin turns himself into a germ that infects the poor Madam.

Alice vs. The Queen of Hearts

Of course, most magical villains need evil henchmen. In “Alice in Wonderland,” our female protagonist meets many magical creatures along her path in Wonderland, but none is quite as daunting as the Queen of Hearts and her royal guard.

We always know, however, that good will triumph. Alice won’t lose her head, despite the queen’s bluster. Alice’s wits help her find a way through the confusing maze and past Cheshire cats, mad hatters, and other magical creatures that confront her.

Peter Pan vs. Captain Hook

In the magical world of Neverland, Peter Pan and his lost boys battle against wily crocodiles, bumbling pirates, and Captain Hook himself.

We can’t be too frightened of Hook, though, because we laugh at him when he confronts the crocodile and runs away in terror. We know that Peter will eventually triumph because of his good magic (the ability to fly), his bravery, and his choice of allies-including the most popular of all Disney fairies, Tinkerbell.

Belle vs. the Beast

When beautiful and kind Belle comes to live with the Beast, she doesn’t possess visible magic. Instead, Belle’s magic just may be the most powerful of all: love. Her kindness towards the Beast and his entire household of magical furnishings trumps the Beast’s own selfish, bitter anger.

Over time, this love and kindness melt the Beast’s heart and help him fall in love with Belle. Together, their love dissolves the curse that cloaks the Beast in fur and claws, leaving behind a handsome prince.


The next time you feel out of control in your life, turn to magic for inspiration. By seeing good magic triumph over bad magic, you may start to believe that you can turn bad events into good ones, too. Just believe!

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